Tour de France sprint champion, Robbie McEwen, who last weekend won the Australian criterium championships, will spearhead the Predictor-Lotto team attack at the 2007 Tour Down Under. The 34 year-old Queenslander this year won three stages of the Giro d'Italia and three stages of the Tour de France as well as the coveted green sprinter's jersey. In the eight-year history of the Tour Down Under McEwen has won 11 stages, the most of any rider, and is expected to add more to the list in 2007.
"This year I won the Down Under Classic and finished third overall in the Tour Down Under despite not being in peak form," said McEwen. "If I can do that again I'll be really happy and if I'm going well might do even better."
McEwen says the Predictor-Lotto team for the 2007 Tour Down Under is a strong one that could challenge for overall honours.
"I would say our team looks like a 'GC' team rather than a sprinter's team," said McEwen. "In the finishes I'll be trying to work with Geert Steurs [new pro] and Fred [Rodriquez] and for the rest of the race we'll have Matthew Lloyd, who's a talented climber and Josep [Jufré] who's a good climber as well. ... Jufré has finished in the top-15 overall in the Vuelta [a España] but in this year's Vuelta he crashed out and did a lot of damage cutting the tendons in his arm, so the Tour Down Under will be his come back race."
Victorian Matthew Lloyd, 23, will debut with the team in Adelaide signing up after a stellar year with the SouthAustralia.com-AIS team that saw him win stages in the Tour of Japan and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and finish third overall in the U26 Giro d'Italia.
McEwen is one of the most prolific winners in the sport of cycling and acknowledges there is a weight of expectation on him now to deliver every year.
"I don't know if I'll get better in 2007 but if I can be anywhere near the level I was this year I'll be very happy," he said. "Any year you win a grand tour stage is pretty good and the Tour will be one of my major goals again but I also want to have a good go at Milan-Sanremo in March without any injury or illness concerns - I had a broken rib this year.
"Tour Down Under let's me fine tune everything in good weather and with good racing before I go to Europe, and I'll stay in Australia for an extra two weeks after the race to make sure I have a good base."
The South African registered Barloworld has also confirmed its line up with South African Robert Hunter, 29, expected to challenge McEwen's sprint supremacy. Hunter's career highlights include stage wins in the Vuelta a España, Tour de Langkawi and Tour of Switzerland plus overall victory in the 2004 Tour of Qatar. On board with Hunter will be Italian Fabrizio Guidi, 34, whose resume boasts two stage wins in the Giro and three stage wins in the Vuelta. He has also claimed stage victories in Paris-Nice and the tours of Denmark, Austria and Poland.
Welsh star, Gereint Thomas, will debut with Barloworld at the Tour Down Under as one of the youngest riders in the race. The courageous 20 year old is forging a career in the sport after fighting back from serious injuries he sustained in an accident in Sydney in May 2004 which forced doctors to remove his spleen. This year he won the European U23 pursuit title and took silver at the track world championships in Bordeaux as member of the Great Britain pursuit team. He claimed bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and was the 2004 junior world champion in the scratch race.
The Navigators team will return to Adelaide in 2007 with four Australians in the starting eight. Commonwealth Games road time trial silver medallist and Jayco Herald Sun Tour stage winner, Ben Day, joins the team which also boasts sprinter Hilton Clarke. Clarke this year enjoyed great success in American including victory in the USPro criterium championship while back in Australia he successfully defended his sprinter's crown in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. Ben Brooks and Glen Chadwick are the other two Australians in the line up. Also on the Navigators roster is three-time Olympian and former Ukrainian road champion Valery Kobzarenko who this year won overall honours in the Tour de Beauce. 2003 U23 world road champion and six time Uzbekistan champion, Sergey Lagutin, will also travel to Adelaide.
Team Manager: Hendrik Redant
Team Manager: Edward Beamon
Paolo Longo Borghini
Team Manager: Alberto Volpi
The 2007 Tour Down Under will be held January 16 – 21, 2007. For further information please visit the official website at www.tourdownunder.com.au.